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11/18/10 12:12 PM EST

Things looking up for rising star Espinosa

Second baseman shows potential with cycle in Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON -- Talk to Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa and one would think he is not playing well for Leones de Ponce of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Espinosa will point out that he is striking out too much and has to get used to the umpiring in the league. Entering Thursday's action, he has a team-leading 22 strikeouts.

"My outs are mostly strikeouts, and most of them have been looking," Espinosa said via phone. "It's not like I was swinging at pitches in the dirt."

But Espinosa's offensive numbers tell a different story. He is 22-for-71 (.314) with two home runs, eight RBIs and 15 runs scored. His best game for Ponce came Tuesday, when he hit for the cycle in a 10-2 victory over Gigantes de Carolina.

Espinosa accomplished the feat in reverse order -- hitting a homer in the first inning, a triple two innings later, a double in the sixth and a single in the seventh.

"Getting those hits was awesome," Espinosa said. "It felt so good. I felt after I got that triple, I thought I was going to hit for the cycle."

Tuesday wasn't Espinosa's only great day in 2010. The first came on Sept. 6, when the rookie infielder went 4-for-5 against the Mets, hit two home runs and knocked in six runs, which matched a season high for a Washington player. Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman also drove in six runs in games this year.

At that time, Espinosa was 9-for-16 (.562) with three home runs and 10 RBIs. But after that great start, Espinosa went 11-for-77 (.143) with three home runs and five RBIs the rest of the season. He said there were several factors to his season-ending slump.

"I don't want to say I was tired, because I didn't feel tired," Espinosa said. "I just think it was an adjustment for me to be in the leadoff spot. I didn't know a lot of the pitchers. It was tough to do at the leadoff spot.

"I think, for sure, I'll have more confidence in myself to [hit in the leadoff spot] if that's what the plan is for me to do. I've talked to [manager] Jim Riggleman and I feel confident as far as Spring Training, the season and what they have planned for me."

For now, the plan is to have Espinosa become the Opening Day second baseman in 2011. Espinosa brings the athleticism that general manager Mike Rizzo is looking for. Espinosa is an excellent defensive second baseman, and his glove alone will save the team a lot of runs.

Espinosa went so far as to say that he and shortstop Ian Desmond will bring excitement up the middle next season.

"I think it's going to be great," Espinosa said. "We are going to see a lot of range. You will see two guys up the middle that are going to do everything they can to win a lot of ballgames. I believe both Ian and I play hard all the time. I'm hoping Ian and I bring more energy to this team. If we do that, things are going to go our way."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.